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I am a 27 year old male in the US. I was with an actuarial consulting firm, my first job out of college, for approximately two years until I was fired. I am starting to apply for new jobs in the actuarial and data science fields. Inevitably, I will likely be asked why I left my old job.

Here is the real reason:

Adjusting to the COVID work-from-home setting was already a little difficult for me. Further, a few months into working from home, my fiancee cheated on me shortly after we set our engagement. Plot twist, she cheated on me with another woman, and made me feel very obligated to continue giving her emotional support and friendship through the transition, (she comes from a... less than supportive family) which was a rather drawn out situation (1-2 months). This would obviously devastate anyone, but since this event occurred I have sought help for mental health and have been diagnosed with situational depression. The 1-2 months I mentioned drastically impacted my performance at work. Nothing terrible like entirely not showing up for work (well, remote work), but I wasn't delivering the quality of work that was expected of me, and I was far less efficient. Not knowing that I had 'situational depression', I thought how I felt was probably how anyone would feel in that situation, so I tried to "tough it out". I despise being dramatic, but I didn't eat or sleep much in those two months and began to have suicidal ideation, ultimately why I sought help. I have continued with therapy, and it has now been brought to my attention that this is not the first event in my life where I have been emotionally impacted by something to a greater degree than an "average" individual may be. Also, being my first job, I never thought to reach out to my manager or HR about what was happening and why my performance was lagging. I thought personal issues were something that should be kept separate from work.

I do have two former managers from this job that have said they would give me a positive reference. I worked for them before any of these issues came to fruition. I began working for my last and final manager 1 - 2 months before the switch to working from home.

My question:

In future job interviews or applications, when asked why I left my former position, how much of the real story should I disclose?

Should I avoid all of it and just say something general like "it was a bad fit?". I certainly don't think all of the details above are necessary, and I don't want to make myself sound crazy, or make them speculate that the issues may return and interfere with my work for their company. What I would hope to communicate if I share part of the real reason, is that I have sought help to manage and prevent 'situational depression', a condition I wasn't aware I had, from preventing me from doing my job. I certainly want to avoid appearing as though I am seeking sympathy, I am not! I am a highly motivated and capable individual and I only hope to give an appropriate and honest answer to why I was terminated, and what I have done to correct the issue.

I understand that answering this question is subjective, since different hiring managers will have different preferences or reactions, but any general advice will be appreciated.

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    "when asked why I left my former position" - "let go due to covid-19 situation". – SZCZERZO KŁY Aug 11 at 8:22
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    Keep studying for exams while you're looking, unless you're dead set on the data science route. Also depending on your background, speaking with a recruiter or two may be helpful; when I went looking for a job after my first stint as an actuarial analyst at a consulting firm, I did find it helped me focus my messaging as I'd been off the job hunt for a while. One of them actually did help me get a job offer! – Giuseppe Aug 11 at 19:16
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    Brevity and obliqueness should be key. It may be possible just to say "due to Covid". If you have to mention your problems working at home at all, just say "my relationship was breaking down at the time" and nothing more, don't labour the point about exactly what those relationship problems were. – Steve Aug 11 at 19:33
  • It is a pretty sad state of affairs if you can't be honest about something like what you have experienced. In Australia what you have described would be an acceptable reason for your termination, especially during Covid. Young people tend not to be very knowledgeable about their mental state and how it affects their work and what they need to do to keep HR informed and on side. But I guess the US is pretty brutal as far as the workplace is concerned – user120435 Aug 11 at 21:39
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    Been there, done that... – Studoku Aug 12 at 2:01
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I would keep it short and to the point. You can, for instance, simply gloss over it and say that you were let go during the COVID-crisis without giving further details. For most that will be enough, because many companies cut employment numbers simply as they needed to cut cost (and it's not unlikely this was a factor for your company to start looking for people to let go first).

If you are pressed and/or want to provide a bit more details you can go with a general one-liner saying something like "performance was lower than usual due to some initial impact of having to adjust to home office and a once in a lifetime personal issue that should not repeat itself". You don't need and should not go into any more details, but if you want to be open and honest about it, it should suffice to mention a general personal issue of severe impact that is unlikely to impact you again. And to make the last part clear is important then: You want to give an employer the certainty that whatever did negatively affect you in the past, is not gonna affect you further.

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  • Thank you for your answer! – Prince M Aug 13 at 5:23
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Should I avoid all of it and just say something general like "it was a bad fit?"

Yes, generally you just gloss over anything negative. Save the long winded explanations for therapy.

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    We really need to do something about those long winded responses of yours ;) – Old_Lamplighter Aug 11 at 12:46
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    @Old_Lamplighter therapy perhaps? ;) – Kilisi Aug 11 at 14:42
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    "It was a bad fit" is not actually correct. I would avoid anything that would be found to be untrue if it was followed up. – DJClayworth Aug 11 at 20:12
  • Thank you for your answer – Prince M Aug 13 at 5:21
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A good rule of thumb is: Interviewers don't like trying to decide whether the applicant is blameless on a situation.

Let me give you an example.

"Well, I had to leave my last job because my manager and I just couldn't agree on coding standards - we were pretty much living in the Wild West over there, and I got tired of fighting for code quality all the time."

Ok. So, which of these are correct:

  • The manager was an idiot, and the ex-employee was trying to implement common sense procedures to maintain production code quality.
  • The employee was throwing wrenches into a perfectly working process about an issue that doesn't even apply to their specific situation.
  • Both the manager and the employee were wrong and right at the same time, and the truth was in some ugly middle ground.

Any one of them! There's no sure way to tell - and all three of those situations would result in an applicant saying their statement.

If I'm interviewing someone, and they say something bad about a prior job? It doesn't automatically disqualify them or anything. But it raises the question in the back of my mind: what percentage of the problem were they responsible for? And the more issues they bring up, the higher that percentage is likely to be.

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    You forgot the option “where the employee was attempting to implement change well beyond their skill level and caused significant delays to a project with a tight timeline!“ – Donald Aug 12 at 2:34
  • Not disagreeing with you, but if the person being interviewed said that, would it then be your job as the interviewer to ask "can you give me an example of one such disagreement" in order to decide who was at fault? [code quality was shit at my previous job and I was in charge of running a datapipeline that was a bee's nest of code and I can totally see myself saying something like your highlighted statement]. Thank you for taking the time to answer though! What I hope my question shows is that I am trying to take responsibility for what happened, just how much detail to provide in doing so – Prince M Aug 13 at 5:27

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